Friday, July 31, 2009

See how much they've 'borrowed'

Interested in seeing exactly how much the state government is pilfering from counties and cities? The Sacramento Bee has a database that's right up your alley.

Just visit this link and play around to see who in California gets hurt the most.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The valley as a powerhouse?

Think back, for a moment, to the campaigns of Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton. The mathematician and former wind engineer pledged that one of his goals is to make the Central Valley a leader in energy production.

But while he envisioned renewable energy taking center stage, it's several new power plants proposed for our neck of the valley that could make us a powerhouse leader.

Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth will have more on this story Friday evening at, and expect the Press to follow this issue that affects our air quality and quality of life closely.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tracy's unsolved mystery, 10 years later

Every time I drive into Tracy on the 205, I see a billboard bearing the photos of two teenagers. They're young and handsome, attired in tuxes with excited looks.

The only thing belying their bright faces is the request emblazoned above them — help find who murdered these boys.

I've long thought about writing a column about the pair of Tracy teenagers apparently murdered 10 years ago. I wanted to know about the people behind a dogged pursuit of justice and who would keep the billboard up all these years, allowing the public to see their grief firsthand. It could be, I thought, compelling.

Instead (and thankfully for all you alert readers), Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth went in search of the story. Her update of what's turned into a cold case was published online Tuesday.

It's just as compelling a story as I thought it would be. But it's heartrending. A family's worst nightmare. I'm glad that Jennifer did this story — it must have been a very tough one to report.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Send your letters, one and all

Starting today you can send all your letters to the editor to Second Thoughts, as management here has taken up oversight of the Tracy Press Voice section.

Letters and commentaries will be accepted at:
the "Submit Letters" option of the Press Web site (
145 W. 10th Street, Tracy CA 95376

Share your thoughts!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Going godless?

If you read this week's Second Thoughts and decided I'm anti-religion, I'm sorry to say you misread the column. There's more nuance here than Two Legs Bad, Four Legs Good.

Simply put, the government has no right prohibiting you from bringing beliefs and convictions to bear when you speak, make decisions, even vote. That's what freedom of religion means in this country.

But there is something very wrong about the government — as the secular institution leading this nation, state, county, city, etc. — supporting one religion over another, supporting religion over irreligion, etc. Secular government should leave matters of salvation alone. Period.

Such a practice protects your freedom, my freedom, everyone's freedom, no matter what you believe.

(Side note: For the record, I have nothing against government funding going to religious charities that do good work in their communities, so long as none of that public money goes toward proselytizing.)

However, if religion becomes a tool of the state, theocracy is what you've got, and it's only a matter of degree until you hit "Taliban" on the Theoc-o-Meter.

That isn't an indictment of religion itself. Because just like anything else, religion can be bad, and it can also be very good. Two things can be equally true.

Religion just shouldn't be part of the government's purview.

You can't make this stuff up

Courtesy of Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth:

Check out this story, about someone with the last name "Swindler" arrested on Tuesday morning for swindling Tuesday Morning.

Really, we're not making this up.

Sacramento smash and grab

The state is poised to take about $4 million from Tracy coffers, according to a statement just released by city spokesman Matt Robinson. (The state calls it "borrowing," but don't hold your breath for repayment.)

That means the city's budget situation — already running at a structural deficit — is just about to get worse.

The straits aren't dire, as the city still has about $25 million in the bank that could pay for the state's "borrowing." But the city is not counting on that reserve to last forever, as evidenced by the decision to defray some costs by charging for fire department-served paramedic services.

This space anticipates more reductions in services and more creative fee increases (please, don't call them taxes). The "new normal" isn't new anymore.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A season of need

Today, the Tracy Community Council of the United Way (full disclosure: I happen to be a member) sifted through applications for its annual grants. It's the first round of a process to determine which worthy charities get local UW funding this fiscal year.

The choices are never easy.

It will be especially so this year, as the demand for money is up, even though there seems to be less money to go around.

This is truly a season of need, even though the traditional holiday giving season is five months away. Expect it to remain that way until the recession is over, which according to various estimates might not be unitl 2012.

Consider this a plea on behalf of the area's tireless do-gooders: Donate if you can.

If you want a list of possible recipients, here's a start.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Right lesson, wrong application

Beautiful piece of ad hominem in the Wednesday Voice section of the Tracy Press.

Usually, such hackery doesn't merit a mention in this space, but deserving of special attention because of its ubiquity in current political discourse is this excerpted sentence:

Historically, increased government spending has never led us out of a recession.

A lot of folks, who are rightly concerned with the federal government's ballooning debt, have argued against increasing Obama's already-sizeable Keynesian stimulus plan, as the president and many economists have suggested.

These government-spending skepitcs point to the case of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, saying that it was World War II, not FDR's extensive social spending that pulled the nation out of the Great Depression.

But what was World War II if not a massive dose of government spending?

(Side note, John Maynard Keynes lamented that FDR did not spend enough during his New Deal and argued that the Depression would have ended sooner if FDR hadn't curtailed government spending in the mid-1930s in response to concerns that he was too much of a spendthrift.)

WWII shot spending through the roof. And on the other side of the war, America's economy soon became the envy of the world.

Keynesian economics — which entails spurring the economy through government spending — is the right thing to do in lean times, when the government is the only entity big enough and rich enough to spur the economy.

Where Keynesian economics hits a wall and ceases to be useful is during times of growth and plenty, when the private sector is more than capable of carrying the economy. Problem is, past generations continued to run up huge deficits in times of strong private-sector growth, expanding the national debt when it should have been reduced.

Deficit-hawks are exhibiting a case of right lesson, wrong application.

We need these tight-fisted folks around when the private sector is booming to reduce government spending. But right now, we need the government to keep us afloat.

Back in business

After a weeklong haitus, More Second Thoughts is back — under the same management.

Kicking off the week, a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that might bring hope during the region's hottest streak of the year.

According to the NOAA, El Niño has arrived in the Pacific Ocean (remember, el niño is Spanish for "the niño"), and it's supposed to stick around for several months. That means California might get the wetter-than-normal winter it so desperately needs.

The blessing could be a curse in disguise. Because in California, if we're not worried about the drought and fallow fields, we're worried about our levees springing leaks that no Dutch boy could stanch.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Columnist takes off

Epic Summer Tour 2009 takes me this coming week to the semi-wilds of Flathead Lake, Montana.

That means the blog will be shut down until I return to the office July 21 (unless, for some unforseen reason, I decide to blog lakeside). The column will hopefully return in print on July 25.

Feel free to fill my inbox at in the meantime.

Delta College's next struggle

If it's not one thing, it's another.

Now that the whole accreditation battle is over — and students at San Joaquin Delta College can rest assured their degrees and accumulated credits will be recognized — Delta's board of trustees and administrators face a nearly 10 percent budget cut.

Trustee Steve Castellanos told me today, while being interviewed for a Saturday column about the accreditation mess, that these are "unprecedented" times that will call for "very, very tough" decisions.

That's kind of stating the obvious, but seeing how some governmental agencies treat the truth, it's nice to know the Delta board has its collective head on straight.

The saddest part about the budget cuts at Delta College, as Castellanos pointed out to me and I agree with, is that community colleges offer affordable education — and a chance to boost one's economic prosperity. Such drastic cuts impair that mission and ability.

Just as we're trying to give folks a way to get back on their feet, we're knocking rungs out of the ladder up from the cellar.

I know, I know. There isn't enough money to fund all the good government-supported causes out there. That doesn't make it any less depressing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Best phone call of the day...

"I'm calling from Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani's office. We're just calling to see if everyone who we're sending press releases to is still employed."

Yes, alert readers, it's that bad.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Independence Day quiz answers

Wait with bated breath no longer. Here is the answer to the Second Thoughts query posted on the Fourth of July: "Q: What are the five freedoms specifically protected by the First Amendment?"

A: Religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

The full context of the First Amendment is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For extra credit, consider the whole amendment in relation to the first clause: "Congress shall make no law..."

If you're a "strict constructionist" or prefer "non-activist" judges, that means your definition of the First Amendment means only that the U.S. Congress shall make no laws abridging those five rights. Pretty narrow construct, that.

It was only during the past century that federal judges began to consider these rights as extending inalienably and specifically to the people, not simply as a prohibition against the federal government's power. That's a development that I'm wholeheartedly in favor of.

So next time someone rails against "activist" justices, refer them to judicial precedent. And ask them if they enjoy what judicial activists have done for them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I don't expect this to go over well

Read this story, published a few weeks ago in the Tracy Press. Then read this story, to be published in print Wednesday in the Tracy Press.

I'm guessing that readers think of the first (which generated a huge amount of negative reader response) when they read the second. I'm also guessing the words that some readers will have for members of the City Council will not be kind.

Perhaps that isn't entirely fair. Investing in downtown is a critical part of spurring a Tracy renaissance, and its merits should be viewed with a certain measure of independence from other council decisions. In other words, judge the business district vote on its own merits, not the merits of a vote that happened three weeks ago.

Still, the council's decision in the current economic climate and on the heels of the paramedic fee OK is liable to really wrankle the general public.

For further reading, Councilman Mike Maciel gave a public accounting for his role in the first story here, and my parsing out of the city's decision in the first story is here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Second Thoughts doesn't go in for jingoism or false patriotism — but the anniversary of our nation's declaration of independence lo those many years ago is reason to celebrate.

If you saw the end of today's column, you know that my celebration is mostly about being thankful for the rights, freedoms and priviledges guaranteed by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the successive Amendments to the Constitution. It is those guarantees that make America a great nation, and those of us who call America home lucky, lucky people.

In that spirit, I offer the following one-question quiz (which, if you answer correctly without Googling for help, makes you one of a very select group of Americans):

Q: What are the five freedoms specifically protected by the First Amendment?

A: Tune in to the blog Wednesday to find out. 'Till then, have a happy Fourth.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Stone-cold lock of the week

This story of a plane-crash turned survivor story will end up being trotted out, eventually, as a reason why activities at the Tracy Municipal Airport should be shut down.

The argument will go something like this: In the interest of public safety — namely the safety of the people who will one day call the close-to-the-airport Ellis subdivision home — flights should be canceled or rerouted. Activity at the airport should be slowly decreased lest another freak crash happen over homes.

If the argument takes, the fledgling businesses at the airport will fold, and one of our city's economic success stories will shrivel.

Please, please, please, let me be wrong.

Refreshing news for downtown Tracy

Thank you David Helm — we've been waiting for this drink a long time.

Helm's announcement that he will open an alehouse on the corner of Central Avenue and 10th Street — with a full offering of both macro- and micro-brews, complete with a pub-style menu — is just what I'd hoped to hear since Scrapbook Memories abandoned the JC Penney's building.

That space is spoken for now by Corral Hollow Realty, but the location one block to the east hardly matters. Downtown needs more places where you can grab a brew after work or sip on suds before a show at the Grand Theatre. (The Grate Plate is fine, but a change of pace is nice, too.)

And the relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere Helm seems to be shooting for is just the type of business that could be a downtown draw.

Hopefully, the building's air conditioner issues will work out soon. I can't wait to belly up to the newest bar in town.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A strange new Delta definition

This report from a local TV news outlet (and others like it) could be one of the reasons many seem confused about the plight of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The sub-headline:

Water is now flowing into the San Joaquin Delta. On Wednesday, at two water stations in Tracy, pumps were turned on.

To clarify, the pumps that were turned on take water out of the Delta, sending it into aqueducts that feed Parts Previously Unwatered. This means there is less water in the Delta, not more.

It seems this outfit sees the Delta-Mendota Canal and California Aqueduct as an integral part of the endangered Delta instead of unnatural siphons.